Asia in Review Archive 2021


12 January 2021

Pakistan: Leader of group linked to 2008 Mumbai attacks sentenced to five years in jail for terror financing

An anti-terrorism court sentenced Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, leader of the Islamist terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), to five years imprisonment and a fine over a charges of terrorism financing. Earlier this month, Lakhvi was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore where he was running a medical dispensary that he allegedly used to collect funds for militant activities [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]. [Dawn]

12 January 2021

Pakistan: Anti-terrorism court sentences three to death for sharing blasphemous content on social media

(lm) An anti-terrorism court (ATC) has sentenced to death three men for social media posts deemed blasphemous. A fourth accused, a college professor, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for a “blasphemous” lecture he had delivered in the classroom. The convicted people can appeal in two higher courts to overturn their conviction or ask for mercy from the president. [Al Jazeera] [Dawn]

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject in Pakistan, where insulting the Prophet Muhammad carries the death penalty. Even mere accusations of blasphemy have incited mass protests and mob lynching even before their trials were concluded in courts [see e.g., AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4].


12 January 2021

Pakistan: Shia Hazara community ends protest as Prime Minister Khan visits Quetta

(lm) Protests over the killing of 11 Shi’ite Hazara miners in the city of Quetta were finally called off on January 9, after the provincial government of Balochistan and representatives of the Hazara community reached an agreement. Tens of thousands gathered for the burial of the 11 coalminers, who were killed by Islamic State militants earlier this month [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]. [The Straits Times] [Arab News]

Accompanied by Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Quetta the following day to meet with the families of the deceased. Before then, the protests had further spread to other cities of the country, including the southern metropolis of Karachi, with protesters demanding the dissolution of the provincial government of Balochistan and strong action by Islamabad to find and punish the culprits. The prime minister had also come under fire for saying he would not let protesters blackmail him into coming to Quetta. [Dawn 1] [Dawn 2] [The EurAsian Times] [Reuters]

12 January 2021

Pakistan: Pakistan observes annual Right to Self-determination of Kashmiris Day

(lm) Rallies and seminars were held across Pakistan and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir to mark the annual Right to Self-determination of Kashmiris Day on January 5. On this day in 1949, the United Nations committed that the Jammu and Kashmir dispute would be decided through a free and fair plebiscite. The same day, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning the grave human rights violations in occupied Kashmir. [Anadolu Agency]

Addressing the upper house of parliament, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi reaffirmed Islamabad’s support to the pro-freedom struggle in Indian-administered Kashmir, saying Pakistan was part of the Kashmiris’ “movement for self-determination.” Qureshi also said Islamabad expects an active United States role vis-à-vis the resolution of the long-standing dispute. [Profit Pakistan]

Winding up the Senate session, the foreign minister the next day invited lawmakers from three mainstream opposition parties – the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) – for talks to chalk out a comprehensive action plan aimed at resolution of the lingering Kashmir dispute. [Dawn]

12 January 2021

Pakistan conducts successful test flight of Fatah-1 rocket system

(lm) Pakistan successfully conducted a test flight of Fatah-1, an indigenously developed guided multi-launch rocket system. Last February, amid heightened tensions with neighboring India, Islamabad carried out a successful test of its Ra’ad-II cruise missile. A month earlier, Pakistan tested the Ghaznavi ballistic missile, which has a range of 290 kilometers, just days after India tested its submarine-launched K-4 ballistic missile. Anadolu Agency]

12 January 2021

Turkmenistan, Pakistan agree to deepen bilateral trade

(lm) During a meeting between Turkmenistan’s ambassador to Pakistan and an Adviser to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, both sides agreed to deepen trade relations between the two countries. Located in a landlocked but resource-rich region, Turkmenistan expressed keen interest in connecting with Pakistan’s warm water ports – most notably the China-operated Gwadar port. [The Express Tribune] [Profit by Pakistan Today]

To gain access to the economies of neighboring countries, Islamabad is already working on a trilateral railway project connecting Pakistan with Afghanistan and Uzbekistan [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5].

12 January 2021

Saudi Arabia fails to sign debt suspension pact with Pakistan

(lm) Saudi Arabia failed to sign a formal agreement with Pakistan for debt suspension under the G-20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), which offers a temporary suspension of government-to-government debt payments to 76 countries. A deadline for phase-1 of the suspension initiative covering a period from May to December 2020 expired on December 31 last year. [The Express Tribune]

Since the DSSI was approved last April [see AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3], Islamabad had entered into negotiations with 21 creditor countries for debt suspension amounting to $1.7 billion. According to the Economic Affairs Ministry, Pakistan successfully negotiated and concluded rescheduling agreements with 19 bilateral creditors, including members of the so-called Paris Club group of major creditor countries. Thus, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are the two remaining countries that are yet to ratify debt suspension agreements with Pakistan.

Last year, Saudi Arabia already decided to withdraw its cash-support to Pakistan, withdrawing 2$ billion in loan and cancelling investment commitments of another $20 billion in Pakistan. At the time, China had come forward and extended $1 billion in loan to help Islamabad avoid any adverse impact of the partial withdrawal of the Saudi lifeline [see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. Riyadh also asked its ally UAE to choke Islamabad economically by suspending work visas to its citizens [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].

12 January 2021

Pakistan cannot recognize Israel, says Prime Minister Imran Khan

(lm) Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on January 6 said Islamabad would refuse to recognize Israel until a viable two-state solution was reached in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Further elaborating, the prime minister provided two reasons, the first one being a potential loss of “moral standing” on the Kashmir conflict. On the second reason, Khan then cited Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who in 1948 said that Pakistan could never accept Israel as long as Palestinians are not given their rights and there was no just settlement.[Anadolu Agency]

Touching on ties between Turkey and Pakistan, the prime minister recalled the “historical linkage” between the two countries and said they will not forget the support and help Turkey has given to Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. [The EurAsian Times]

12 January 2021

Pakistan, United States hold joint consultations over strategic defense dialogue

(lm) A US delegation led by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs visited Pakistan’s General Headquarters (GHQ) on January 7 to hold formal consultations on under the Pakistan-US Strategic Level Defense Dialogue. While discussing opportunities for strengthening bilateral defense cooperation on counterterrorism, the senior US official reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to a “long-term mutually-beneficial security partnership” with Islamabad. [The Express Tribune]

5 January 2021

Islamic State militants kill coal miners in southwestern province of Balochistan

(lm) Islamic State militants in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan have killed at least 11 workers at a remote coal mine, authorities said on December 3. Police video of the bodies revealed the miners were blindfolded and had their hands tied behind their backs before being shot. The victims were said to be members of the minority Shiite Hazara community, which is often targeted by Sunni militant groups, including the Islamic State group, who consider them heretics. [Al Jazeera] [Deutsche Welle]

Following the incident, hundreds of Shiites blocked a key highway on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Quetta, the coffins with the miners’ bodies laid out on the ground before them, insisting they would not be buried until authorities arrest the killers. [Associated Press]


5 January 2021

Pakistan: Supreme Court takes up Senate election reference

(lm) Pakistan’s Supreme Court (SC) on January 4 commenced the hearing for a presidential reference seeking advisory jurisdiction on holding the upcoming Senate elections through open ballot. The reference was filed by the federal government after it decided to hold elections for the 52 seats that will fall vacant following the retirement of some senators from the 104-member upper house in March next year [see AiR No. 50, December/2020, 3]. [The Express Tribune 1] [The Nation]

Filed by the Attorney General earlier last week, the reference seeks the apex court’s opinion on Prime Minister Imran Khan‘s plan to hold the election for members of the Senate utilizing show of hands. Further, the government seeks legal guidance on amending Section 122(6) of the Elections Act, 2017 through an ordinance before the commencement of the election. The presidential reference further argues that there is national consensus amongst all major political parties, jurists and civil society that the electoral process should be cleansed of the pervasive practice of vote buying in elections to the Senate. [Dawn]

Separately, the oppositional Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) on December 1 decided to participate in the upcoming by-elections [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4] but postponed a decision about contesting the Senate elections. The 11-party alliance also decided to hold protests at the offices of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) later this month.

The PDM meeting was held a day after its deadline for collecting resignations of national and provincial lawmakers belonging to its constituent parties ended on December 31 [see AiR No. 50, December/2020, 3]. It also came a week after the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – a constituent party of the PDM – had decided to take part not only in by-polls but also in the Senate elections. [The Express Tribune 2] [The Express Tribune 3]

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) also stands divided on participating in the upcoming Senate elections, with one group supporting the PPP’s stance of not leaving the field open for the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), while another group had advocated boycotting the contest, seeing a meagre benefit for the party. [Asian News International]


5 January 2021

Pakistan: Abducted lawyer appears before Islamabad High Court

(lm) The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on January 4 once again expressed concern over the “deteriorating law and order situation” in the capital after a lawyer, who had been abducted from his home by unidentified individuals two days earlier, appeared in court to detail the ordeal he allegedly went through. In his detailed order, the IHC also noted that the Islamabad Capital Territory is directly supervised and administratively controlled by the federal government. A group of 12-15 people posing as members of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) had kidnapped the lawyer late on Saturday night but released him after keeping him in illegal detention for forty-eight hours. [Dawn]

Extrajudicial abductions and enforced disappearances by shadowy military agencies have been a feature of life in Pakistan for two decades. Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly pledged to end the practice, but since he became prime minister in 2018, the disappearances have continued [see e.g., AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4], while accountability seems as elusive as ever.


5 January 2021

Pakistan: Passport of former Prime Minister Sharif to be cancelled in February, says interior minister

(lm) Against the larger backdrop of Islamabad’s failure to persuade the United Kingdom to repatriate former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan on December 30 announced that it was planning to cancel Sharif’s passport in mid-February. Sharif, who was jailed in a corruption case in 2018, has been residing in London since November last year after a court granted him indefinite bail to seek medical treatment. The former prime minister is facing several corruption charges in Pakistan and is considered by the courts to have absconded. He is also facing sedition charges for accusing the military of political interference [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. [Dawn] [Hindustan Times]

In October, Pakistan’s federal government had written to British authorities for a third time, requesting the UK to consider cancelling Sharif’s visa [see also AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. Responding in writing, British Home Secretary Priti Patel pointed out that the UK government was subject to international law, adding that London would give a potential extradition treaty request ‘full attention the provision of UK law.’ Pakistan currently has no extradition treaty with the UK. In response, Islamabad the same month withdrew clearance for a flight chartered by the UK to take deportees from London to Islamabad. While Pakistan has denied any links to the row over Nawaz Sharif’s repatriation, the move last month prompted a letter from Patel to a Special Assistant to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].

Separately, a British High Court has ordered debiting more than $28 million from the bank accounts of Pakistan’ High Commission in London, after more than two years Islamabad had lost a long-running arbitration case against a foreign asset recovery firm. [WION] [The New Indian Express]

5 January 2021

Pakistan: Provincial government will pay to rebuild Hindu temple destroyed by mob

(lm) A Hindu temple in northwestern Pakistan will be rebuilt using provincial government funds, after it was destroyed by a Muslim mob last week. Around 1,500 people descended on the temple after protesting the alleged expansion of the century-old temple, using sledgehammers to damage the structure’s walls before setting the building on fire. The mob was led by a radical cleric and supporters of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), one of Pakistan’s largest Islamic parties. [The Straits Times] [Deutsche Welle

Hindus constitute Pakistan’s largest non-Muslim minority, estimated at between two and four percent of the population, most of whom live near the Indian border in the southern province of Sindh. Discrimination and violence against religious minorities has been growing in Pakistan for the last five years, with more frequent attacks on places of worship [see latest AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2]. Following the incident, dozens of Hindus rallied in the southern port city of Karachi to demand the rebuilding of their place of worship. [South China Morning Post]


5 January 2021

Pakistan urges UN to prevent “judicial murder” of Kashmiri separatist

(lm) Pakistan called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on January 1 to prevent the “judicial murder” of Asiya Andrabi, founding leader of Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Nation, DeM). A part of the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), DeM is an all-woman outfit that advocates jihad to establish Islamic law in Kashmir and to establish a separate state from India. A Delhi court last month ordered framing charges against Andrabi and her two associates for allegedly “waging war against India” and other unlawful activities, two years after she was taken into custody by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s federal anti-terror organization. [Dawn]

5 January 2021

Leader of group linked to 2008 Mumbai attacks arrested in Pakistan

(lm) Pakistan authorities on January 2 arrested Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, leader of the Islamist terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), over a separate case of terrorism financing. Lakhvi was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore where he was running a medical dispensary that he allegedly used to collect funds for militant activities. [The Straits Times]

One of the largest militant organizations in South Asia, LeT is accused by India of plotting the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left at least 174 people dead and more than 300 wounded. The Indian government’s view is that Pakistan, particularly through its intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has both supported the group. Lakhvi was detained in 2015 over the attacks but granted bail months later. Since then, the government had slapped him with a series of detention orders, but judges repeatedly cancelled them. [The Hindu]

Context and timing of the arrest are significant, coming in the run-up to a series of meetings of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental organization that monitors global money laundering and terrorist financing. During the FATF’s last review in October, Islamabad was urged to complete the internationally agreed action plan by February 2021 and to demonstrate that terrorism financing probes resulted in effective sanctions [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4].

Earlier this year, Pakistan also arrested firebrand cleric and alleged mastermind of the attacks Hafiz Saeed, who heads the Islamist militant organization Jama’at-ud-Da’wah (JuD), a wing of LeT, for terrorism financing. An anti-terrorism court sentenced Saeed to fifteen-and-a-half years in prison on charges of terrorism financing last week – his fourth conviction this year on similar charges [see AiR No. 47, November/2020, 4]. [AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]

5 January 2021

Pakistan to buy costliest LNG amid increasing gas shortage

(lm) Against the backdrop of an intensifying domestic gas crisis [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4], Pakistan LNG, the state-run procurement agency, will be buying an all-time high priced Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) to secure cargoes for February. Meeting with industrialists, President Arif Alvi, meanwhile, promised to take up the matter with concerned ministers. [Geo News] [The Express Tribune]

LNG spot buying has become a topic of intense debate in the South Asian country, where gas demand peaks in December and January as people use more natural gas to heat homes during the winter [see AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2].

5 January 2021

Pakistan, China agree on need to deepen cooperation

(lm) During a telephone conversation between Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, both sides on December 31 agreed to deepen their cooperation and work together for peace and stability in the region. The same day, representatives of both countries signed a loan agreement worth $100 million for the rehabilitation of the National Highway N-5 Project, an 1819-km road artery linking the port of Karachi to Peshawar and the Afghan border. [Dawn] [The Nation]

To maintain the momentum of high-level exchange, Chinese President Xi Jinping was scheduled to visit Islamabad early this year. However, it now appears that the trip may not happen in the coming months as Qureshi has been invited to visit Beijing, instead.

China, meanwhile, has dismissed reports that it sought additional guarantees from Pakistan before sanctioning a $6 billion loan for the construction of a railway line project [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. Beijing also rejected claims that it was moving away from its initial commitments to Islamabad under the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement, after Pakistani media had reported that concerns over Pakistan’s ability to pay back loans had emerged in recent negotiations. [WION] [The Hindu]